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How Toronto is growing

If there are two things we like to talk about here in Toronto it’s that there are a lot of condos going up and that it’s becoming increasingly difficult–some would say impossible–to get around. Just this past weekend, I had 2 or 3 people tell me that biking is the only practical way to get around downtown and that it’s fairly easy to outwalk a streetcar on either Queen Street or King Street.

Usually these statements are followed by a question, asking what the city is doing to address these issues. The unfortunate reality is that I think urban mobility is going to get worse before it gets better (although I am thrilled about the Eglinton Crosstown line now under construction). If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m a supporter of a Downtown Relief Subway line and that I was disappointed by John Tory’s recent transit proposal.

The best way to explain why I feel this way is to talk about how and where Toronto is growing. In my post on John Tory’s transit proposal, I talked about how Toronto is developing in the shape of an upside down letter T. And the reason for that is because in the city’s Official Plan, the “Downtown and Central Waterfront” area is identified as a growth node and is shaped more or less like an upside T. It’s the light orange in the following map.


In addition to the downtown core, the areas shown in red are earmarked as “Centres” for growth. There’s one in each borough (Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough) and one at Yonge & Eglinton, which most people would consider to be the heart of midtown. Finally, you have the “Avenues” which are the greenish brown lines on the above map. Those are areas that city also hopes will accommodate future growth.

Now, let’s look at where development is happening in the city. Here’s residential development from 2008 to 2012. The biggest circle represents 2,000 proposed residential units.


And here’s non-residential development. The largest diamond represents projects with a non-residential floor area greater than 50,000 square meters (~540,000 square feet).


What should become immediately apparent is that growth–particularly on the residential side–is happening more or less according to plan. The biggest “outliers” are really the development happening along Mimico’s waterfront and all the development happening along Sheppard Avenue East. But those are because of the water and the Sheppard subway line.

In both the residential and non-residential cases though, the downtown and central waterfront area is quite clearly receiving a significant share of the development happening in the city.


Which always makes me wonder: Why are we so reluctant to build proper transit in the core?

The city’s Official Plan is clearly funneling growth to downtown and yet we continue to propose, fund, and build subway lines in areas where the population densities are lower and ridership levels will inevitably be less. Which ultimately means that the required government subsidies to keep those lines operating will be higher.

I’m not suggesting that the inner boroughs don’t also need top notch transit and infrastructure. They absolutely do. But I get frustrated when politics trumps rational city building. And so does everybody else who’s stuck with inadequate mobility options.

Images: City of Toronto

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